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School Choice: An Experimental Study


  • Yan Chen

    (University of Michigan - Ann Arbor)

  • Tayfun Sönmez

    () (Boston College)


We present an experimental study of three school choice mechanisms. The Boston mechanism is influential in practice, while the two alternative mechanisms, the Gale-Shapley and Top Trading Cycles mechanisms, have superior theoretical properties in terms of incentives and efficiency. Consistent with theory, this study indicates a high preference manipulation rate under the Boston mechanism. As a result, efficiency under Boston is significantly lower than that of the two competing mechanisms in the designed environment. However, contrary to theory, Gale-Shapley outperforms the Top Trading Cycles mechanism and generates the highest efficiency. Our results suggest that replacing the Boston mechanism with either Gale-Shapley or Top Trading Cycles mechanism might significantly improve efficiency, however, the efficiency gains are likely to be more profound when parents are educated about the incentive compatibility of these mechanisms.

Suggested Citation

  • Yan Chen & Tayfun Sönmez, 2004. "School Choice: An Experimental Study," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 622, Boston College Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:622

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    school choice; Boston mechanism; mechanism design; Gale-Shapley mechanism; Top Trading Cycles mechanism;

    JEL classification:

    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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